The Highlander's Excellent Adventure
Shana Galen’s The Highlander’s Excellent Adventure is more of a lighthearted romp than usual, but the book is still graced with her typical sense of emotion and drama, although the first half of the plot is creaky, with plot choices and character beats that feel less fresh than they ought.
A dismayed Ines Neves eavesdrops upon her sister Caterina and her brother-in-law Draven (hero and heroine of book five in the series, The Claiming of the Shrew) arguing about her future. Tired of Caterina’s understandable but overprotective babying and of working at her lacemaking shop, Ines decides to escape the odious whirl of the ton -and the pressure of a possible engagement to cartwright Mr. Podmore – by doing the only thing her impulsive spirit will allow her to do – jump into a carriage to avoid him.
The carriage she ends up in is being rented by a handsome Scotsman named Duncan Murray. Duncan has been pressured by his domineering mother to come to England to find himself a well-born lady to marry, but has been thoroughly disappointed in his search. He is equally dismayed to find Ines asleep on the floor of his carriage just after it makes a pitstop outside London. Ines decides to cover up for her faux pas by giving him a fake name (Beatriz) and then using only her native tongue (Portuguese) around him. Unable to understand her language or know what she’s on about, he decides to take Ines to his friend Nash’s estate. Nash is fluent in Portuguese thanks to the war, and thus can translate for them.
Stratford Fortesque meanwhile, is dealing with women problems of his own. Emmeline Wellsley, a distant cousin, has decided to run off as well, shunning the possibility of a fourth disastrous season and yet another raft of disappointing men who sneer at her generous curves. Emmeline thinks her flight will finally shock her mother into allowing her some personal freedom. Straftord immediately sets off in pursuit, as Emmeline deals with all manner of distractions and disruptions. Soon Emmeline, her new doggy friend, and Stratford are headed back home.
The two couples meet up on the way and agree to rest at Nash’s estate, the men having all known one another from their wartime service. Emmeline and Ines soon strike up a friendship, and Emmeline agrees to keep Ines’ true identity a secret from Duncan, but as the couples get closer, danger descends, forcing all four of them to flee for the highlands and Duncan’s estate.
As both couples take the road trip of their lives, they must dodge rivers, outrun a pack of vicious dogs, duck bullets (an unsuccessful notion in Duncan’s case) and avoid the pursuing Draven, who will absolutely kill Duncan if he learns how close the man has come to besmirching Ines’ honor. Ines, scarred by life with an abusive father, plans not to be wed, and Duncan’s emotional scars from life at war keep him from proposing to the girl. Meanwhile, longtime friends Stratford and Emmeline each worry they’re not good enough for the other – Emmeline due to her size, Stratford due to his own secret insecurities. As love and lust knock on each couple’s proverbial door, they must figure out how to move forward.
The Highlander’s Excellent Adventure suffers a bit for its choice to pack two love stories into a single volume. I liked Emmeline and Stratford’s story best of the two – I love a plus-sized heroine, and was glad that Emmeline’s inner conflict rested more upon her mother’s lack of acceptance as to who she was versus thinking she didn’t deserve Stratford. He’s a good beta hero, and I liked his romance with Emmeline, but the romance between Duncan and Ines isn’t as successful. It feels a little bit more melodramatic, and is generally impacted by their mutual stubborn inability to see past their familial scars. Duncan’s mother is a demanding viper; Ines’ physically and emotionally abusive father was so revolting it has put her off of the notion of marriage for good – and their romance didn’t work as well for me. Duncan is also one of those “nae bonnie lassie” Scottish heroes with a phonetic accent, for those who dislike that highlander trope.
Each character is interesting, if not as outstanding as some of the author’s other fearless gents and iron-willed ladies. But I really appreciated Ines’ battle to be seen as an innovator and equal in the family lace-making business.
The Highlander’s Excellent Adventure generally lacks Galen’s usual penchant for angst and melodrama. The stakes are a little lower than usual in the book, which is less a derring-do adventure than a domestic dramady. But it’s a fine change of pace and she manages to make it compelling. As always, her sense of space and time enchants and solidifies the story.
But the convoluted plot of the novel, however, does not. Perhaps focusing on one of the love stories instead of both would have made the book a sharper and more memorable read. The Highlander’s Excellent Adventure isn’t my favorite Galen and definitely not my favorite among the Survivors series, but it’s an entertaining and warm story that still provides a worthwhile reading experience.